Pearl base to repairBy Gregg K. Kakesako
The American Hawaii Cruise's SS Independence will be among the nine vessels, including eight warships, that will be repaired at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard next year under an estimated $50 million program involving 600 workers.
It will be the first time in recent history that a private cruise line will enter the military base for repairs.
The announcement comes as a boost to Pearl Harbor shipyard workers and local ship repair facilities that have seen jobs dry up as the Navy drawdown took work away from the islands.
There is no exact figure at this point, according to John Ball, president of the 34-member Ship Repair Association of Hawaii, since the matter is part of the military appropriations bill pending before Congress and the amount of work will range from $40 to $50 million.
"But the Navy has told us it's a go," said Ball who is the chief operating officer for Honolulu Shipyard.
However, the drop in past Navy maintenance work at Pearl Harbor resulted in an immediate shortage of shipyard workers, so at least one local company, Honolulu Shipyard, has formed a partnership with Mississippi-based Ingalls Shipbuilding to supplement its work force.
Ingalls, located in Pascagoula in southern Mississippi, is currently building two luxury liners for American Hawaii Cruises. It also has 22 military ships now under construction.
Under current proposal the Independence is supposed to go into the yard at Pearl Harbor on Jan. 12 for about two weeks of work.
Ball said the agreement with Ingalls won't mean that taking jobs away from current Pearl Harbor shipyard workers and turning them over to mainland workers.
"It's mainly a backup," Ball said.
"The private sector at this point is not prepared, given our low level of business over the past few years. Ingalls will be there if we need them as a support; we don't have to use them."
In the past, Navy work amounted to 60 to 70 percent of the business of the island's two largest private yards -- Honolulu Shipyard and Marisco Ltd.
However within recent years funding has dropped from $37 million in 1995 to $13 million this year.
At Honolulu Shipyard Ball said that his labor force has climbed and spiked at 100 only to dip to 30 workers when the Navy work dried up.
Ball said that he hopes this partnership with the Navy will continue since private shipyards don't have drydock facilities large as the Navy's.
Among the warships expected to enter the yard next year will be the USS Chosin, USS Lake Erie, USS O'Kane, USS Frederick, USS Salvor, USS Russell, USS Port Royal, and USS Reuben James.